Sometimes I don’t know where
This dirty road is taking me
Sometimes I can’t even see the reason why
I guess I keep a-gamblin’
Lots of booze and lots of ramblin’
It’s easier than just waitin’ around to die
—from “Waitin’ Round to Die”, Townes Van Zandt
One of the greatest Americana singer-songwriters, Townes Van Zandt died 15 years ago this past New Year’s Day, and a new book, A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt, written by Robert Earl Hardy has just been published.
Townes was never famous, and never had a hit. He’s most widely known for the versions of his songs done by others like Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle (who named his son after him). I’ll sometimes see articles about him that use the word “troubled”, but that’s more than an understatement.
A commenter on a Townes YouTube page wrote
There’s the “blues”
and then there’s hopelessness, thats Townes
He went through insulin coma therapy, electroshock, and other medical treatments, but a recent essay/review noted that,
he mostly sought help for his depression the old fashioned way, ingesting large amounts of heroin, cocaine, Robitussin DM, codeine, Dilaudid, Thunderbird, Johnnie Walker Black, and/or vodka; alcohol was his preferred method of assistance and the one that most likely killed him. He once claimed the longest he was sober was three months. He seemed to taunt oblivion, gambling away his last possessions, even his gold teeth, letting himself fall from a fourth-story balcony to see “what it felt like,” and generally until the end of his days, performing myth-making acts of excess in defiance of the human body’s capacity for abuse.
His music is forceful and haunting, and brilliantly written, at its best.
The above cited review, by Aretha Sills was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, and it discusses Van Zandt’s life and work, and also includes the story of, and excerpts from an interview she did with him in 1994, but self-censored.
A few video clips:
- “Waitin around to die” (Live Townes)
- Trailer for Be Here to Love Me: A documentary about Townes
- “Goodbye“: Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris sing a farewell